Shark Encounter!

photo 1

She and I were born on the same day. September the Fourth. She in New York City and me in Los Angeles. We met twenty-three years later close to the middle in Montana. I don’t remember the first time we talked or hung out exactly but we became fast friends. She has taught me so much about living, and forgiving, and laughing, and crying and all of it. She encourages me to try things. With her I have climbed mountains, completed a triathlon, and even participated in summer biathlon. Our husbands just roll their eyes when we get together and usually we kick them out of the bed and we take over talking into the early hours of the morning. We have so many inside jokes and monikers for each other. Handwritten letters are her specialty. Being smart and thoughtful and fun and charitable are her traits. She is perfect.

I went to see her in July. She moved to Maine 3 years ago. In 72 hours we accomplished an amazing amount: The Boston Freedom Trail Run, Minuteman National Park, Church, a long nap, whale watching, blueberry picking, walking in the woods, lighthouse visiting, Victorian Mansion touring, ice cream eating, movie watching, local shopping and kayaking. Now, for as long as I can remember some crazy thing happens to one or both of us everytime we are together. We set out one evening into a glass water bay in borrowed kayaks. We chatted and paddled, watched birds, observed crabs and seashells, maneuvered around lobster traps, floated around tiny islands, hastily telling the stories of our lives since we had last seen each other. And then out of the mirror-surfaced liquid a giant fish completely breached the water not six feet from us. I instantly recognized the flat, white bottom and oval tipped jaw. I immediately started chanting “I am not afraid of sharks, I am not afraid of sharks” We looked dumbfounded for any sign of the creature and excepting a few remaining ripples the water was returning to its previous calm. We asked each other if this is like seeing ‘Bigfoot’ in our Montana mountains, “Do you tell anyone?” “Would they believe you?” We finished our excursion and making our way home looked up what it could have possibly been. Dogfish (sand shark) maybe, but they rarely reach 4′ and this was at least that big. She asked the kayak owner and he said there had been talk of a shark in the bay. The local lobster men said it was probably a Mako. They breach — sometimes landing in boats. A MAKO! I’m sticking with Mako. It makes the story better. The picture above is a pretty accurate reinactment of the shark encounter. (Wink)

Happy Birthday, from your friend, the English Teacher.


He Said I Dig Your Jacket

I Dig Your Books
I Dig Your Books

I’ve been at my mid-life crisis career for almost 18 months. Time is flying (flight attendant humor). I have had incredible opportunities in cities large and small. I’ve eaten delicious food, viewed innovative artworks, attended moving theater, and heard memorable music. I have a vast library of cell phone photos documenting my explorations and perusing through the collection today I started laughing at the above pic and dubbed it a favorite. I was in San Francisco with a little bit of time having finished work early. I rode Cal-Train into the city as BART was on strike. Made my way to the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) because lucky for me some of Margaret Kilgallen’s work was on display as part of the Energy That is All Around exhibit. I witnessed the Diego Rivera mural at the school. I walked the streets of North Beach at dusk and enjoyed dinner at Coppola’s Café Zoetrope (tucked in a cozy copper clad building) My waiter was Ryan Darley, a young man attending SFIA who I have known since he was three. I was satisfied that the night was full, but… there was a flyer announcing a literary crawl with authors of all genres reading their works at various venues across the streets of San Francisco. Well, TC Boyle’s name (T. Coraghessan to be exact) caught my eye and his reading would begin minutes from the moment of my noticing. I jumped in a cab and sped to some part of town called the Tenderloin or was it the Castro? The details escape me, but an urban adventure was unfolding.

I read The Tortilla Curtain years ago as part of my first book club. It was also one of the first time I had read someone contemporary who wove together a tangled tale of complexity, of many right answers and equally as many convoluted wrong turns. He was intellectual and clever, dark and sarcastic, humanist and caring. I’ve read several of his books since then. He gets environmental, he gets political, he gets human nature, he gets humor, he gets the shadows that exist in all our lives.

The reading was great. I admired the talent that can tell a tale so smartly. Afterwards I had him sign my book. He is tall and thin with wild hair and a seemingly wild side (he is a longtime married family man). I never know what to say when I meet ‘famous’ people. Oh, I have a whole list of blunders I’ve made. He started the conversation, “I dig your jacket.” I finished it, “I dig your books.”

Then when I looked back at the images captured that night I laughed again. We look like we are up to no good… trying to hide a shared illicit moment. The background at the art studio just contributes to the atmosphere. There are sequined mushrooms on my blouse, and a question asked… something about my morels.

Edison Joseph Stephens


Grandpa passed away on August 17th. He was 94 years old. He was amazing. He was good-natured and good-humored. When we were in Phoenix almost 25 years ago trying to find my Aunt Colleen’s house we stopped at a payphone to get further directions. She must have indicated in the conversation that we needed to go down a few blocks and we would be there. Grandpa replied, “When it is right flat sis which way is down?” He milked cows for a living. And although I never saw him angry or heard him curse he did quip that if God had not wanted men to swear he would not have made cows. He served in the state legislature for many years and I remember sitting in the balcony at the Capitol watching the yays and nays tally up as the lawmakers did their work. He was colorful… in that he liked color. He wore a salmony pink sport coat and bought a pink and green car when my mom was young. He raced horses, cutter races, you know the kind with the chariot. We would watch the running and then lope on over in our muck boots and snowmobile suits to get in the pictures of the winners. He loved horses. In fact, I still remember when the trailer overturned on the way home from a contest and one of the beloved equine was killed in the accident. I don’t remember much racing after that, but a horse always. He had strong calloused hands with thick fingers and for a while after I realized that not all male hands were built this way I didn’t consider them real men. He played the harmonica, Red River Valley, his signature tune. He sang “Freckles.”  He was a USU Aggie attending Utah State for a while until the aftermath of the Depression called him back home to run the ranch. He raised seven kids and knew all of his many grandchildren and great grandchildren. He never said goodbye to me rather, “keep your nose clean sis” I was certain he knew I had been snooping through the Christmas presents. He was honest and stubborn and mischievous and tough. He was a gentleman. He always put his hat on when you entered the house and his shirt was neatly tucked in. His character was good. His family is good. His name was good, Edison Joseph Stephens. I’m hopeful one day there will be a namesake. There is so much I could write. He has been there my whole life and the world seems lessened without his physical presence. At his funeral his casket was carried to the burial place on the hill in Henefer by horse and carriage. His horse, Betsy followed along without her loyal rider. It was moving. I’m going to miss you grandpa… keep your nose clean and take all this love with you and share it with my mama.


Darren and I gave ourselves 36 hours to be unreasonable. We found ourselves in an unreasonable situation surrounded by unreasonable individuals and so we gave each other permission to act accordingly. I must admit it felt good, cleansing in fact. I was playing a part unbound by shoulds and woulds and my hurt and emotion and raw anger came boiling over sticky and close to burning a singed smell and craziness attached to it. Our time limit is up. It is Easter morning. I thought I would feel bad, ashamed even. And I don’t. I thought my behavior was not in accordance with my values. I guess my values are to be outrageous and preposterous when the place you find yourself in calls for it… to fight back against wrongdoing… to stand your ground even if it means not standing at all but jumping around like a lunatic to call attention to the cause.

Now I am soaking in this glorious day. Meeting up with family to feast and enjoy each other just the way we are.

I thought the end of this poem “Interrupted Meditation” by Robert Hass summed it up nicely:

Everyone their own devastation. Each on its own scale.
I don’t know what the key opens. I know we die,
and don’t know what is at the end. We don’t behave well
And there are monsters out there, and millions of others
to carry out their orders. We live half our lives
in fantasy, and words. This morning I am pretending
to be walking down the mountain in the heat.
A vault of blue sky, traildust, the sweet medicinal
scent of mountain grasses, and at trailside—
I’m a little ashamed that I want to end this poem
singing, but I want to end this poem singing—the wooly
closed-down buds of the sunflower to which, in English,
someone gave the name, sometime, of pearly everlasting.


Art Rack


Getting my creative on. I bought this patterned board at our local Gardner’s Market from talented textile designer and artist Holly Zollinger. It was in my office at the University and has been homeless since I left teaching. The hooks are from our old house in Wellsville. I stripped about a million layers of paint off of them and have carried them around for ten years. The two have finally come together and the bath has a new towel rack.

Italy Vase


Monday. It ended up being a good one. I worked out and on the way home quickly stopped by a thrift store and found this awesome colorful geometric ceramic. It is stamped Italy 727/18 on the bottom. I thought that made it pretty special. I then grabbed some loose stem flowers from the florist and one of Chase’s darling high school friends selected some bright buds to freshen the atmosphere around here. Uncle Tom came by and we scanned sheets of WWII stamps and photos of my grandfather Nathaniel Thomas Toole (such a good name) from his training days in the army, before he was killed in the war. This hanging out with family and friends and discovering unknown stories is becoming quite the habit. Tomorrow I’m going to visit a student who lives in an old Victorian in town previously occupied by polygamists to see the “secret tunnels”